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Jazz Review

Sorrowful Notes Intrude at Bowl

The week's horrific eents inevitably dampen an evening perormance of jazz film scores.

September 14, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The atmosphere at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night can only be described as unsettled. How could it be otherwise, only a day after Tuesday's terrible events in New York City and Washington. The prospect of an entertaining performance of jazz by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and trumpeter Wallace Roney, however well done by these talented artists, seemed out of sync with the reality of the horrific images still present in the minds of most members of the audience.

It wasn't surprising that it was a relatively sparse crowd--3,237 attendees (out of 6,800 tickets sold), nearly less than half the average audience of 7,000 for past performances on the Wednesday-night jazz series. Security was increased, picnic baskets were inspected and many of the conversations in the boxes--before, during and between the numbers--continually focused upon the events surrounding the terrorist attacks.

"I think we're too polite to people who could do something like this," said one woman. "How can we treat them like civilized people, give them trials and good treatment, when they act like uncivilized barbarians?"

The only whisper of disagreement came from someone else who--despite expressing some apprehension over being at a large venue--cautioned that "we have to be careful not to act in an uncivilized fashion ourselves."

Acknowledging the situation, the Bowl management elected to make a few changes in the evening's program. Originally scheduled as "Lights, Camera, Jazz," the concert included segments in which the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra performed live versions of numbers from jazz film scores in sync with large screen video projections of scenes from the pictures. However, a climactic explosion in a clip from "Bullitt" was deemed too potentially distressing, under the circumstances, and was trimmed, making for a somewhat awkward conclusion to that particular segment.

In addition, the planned projection of a passage from the film version of "Mission: Impossible," accompanied by a live rendering of Lalo Schifrin's score for the TV series, was also deleted, performed without visual accompaniment.

Curiously, however, the one segment that caused a brief moment of apprehension remained intact. Beginning with a white screen and an urgent-sounding voice announcing "This is the Los Angeles Police Department!" before revealing itself as a film segment, a clip from the movie "I Want to Live!" triggered a skipped heartbeat of worry that a frightening announcement was about to begin.

John Clayton, co-leader of the orchestra, opened the evening with a touching tribute to the many who have perished in the violence, dedicating a rendering of "Heart and Soul" to their memory, and asking for a moment of silence at the close of the piece.

His efforts to continue the program as usual, however, produced mixed results. The orchestra was somewhat handicapped, first of all, by the absence of regulars Tamir Hendelman on piano, bassist Christoph Luty and drummer and co-leader Jeff Hamilton, all of whom were stranded by the airline groundings. Despite excellent replacements--Bill Cunliffe (a former regular with this group) on piano, drummer Harvey Mason and bassist Robert Hurst--there were far too many passages ("Windmills of Your Mind" in particular) in which the precision required to perform live with a projected film track failed to come together smoothly.

The general atmosphere of the evening was not aided by the fairly large number of listeners who elected to depart at intermission, leaving gaping areas of openness in the box area and long, unoccupied rows of seats in the upper regions. (At the close of the program, surprisingly unoccupied areas in the parking lot made for one of the rarest easy exits within memory.)

Roney's starring numbers, perhaps due to the unsettled emotions of the evening, perhaps as a result of the orchestra's last-minute personnel changes, also failed to produce the gifted trumpeter's best playing--which surfaced only briefly during an atmospheric rendering of "The Shadow of Your Smile."

But Roney, who often has suffered stylistic comparisons with Miles Davis--largely as a result of his own stylistic choices--was not especially aided by the presentation of a stunning Davis visual montage. Intended, obviously, as a tribute to Davis (in his 75th-birthday anniversary year), the film segment instead emphasized the trumpeter's brilliant creative economy in passages filmed with the Gil Evans Orchestra.

But when an instant segue was made from the Davis film segments to a live rendering by the orchestra and Roney, the comparison did not exactly offer favorable results. Still, it's unlikely that any performance, by any artists, could have produced better results on this night in this place. Real-world events were far too present, far too great a challenge to overcome. The Clayton-Hamilton players and Roney deserve credit for making such a determined effort to entertain. But this was not a night in which entertainment was the answer.

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